Ken Burn’s recent documentary on the Vietnam War has kept many viewers glued to their television screens. That war divided the country and created scars that are still visible. I know people who fought in that war, who died in that war, and who were broken apart by that war—people who came home with PTSD before most knew the meaning of those four ominous letters.
Before I started writing OUTSIDE THE WIRE, the second hardboiled police procedural featuring LAPD Homicide Detective Davie Richards, all I knew about the plot was that it would have something to do with Vietnam. That initial inspiration became Davie’s investigation into the murder of a retired Army Ranger and Vietnam War veteran. Little did I know that Ken Burns was filming a documentary that would again bring that history to the forefront.
OUTSIDE THE WIRE is a military term that refers to a soldier leaving the relative safety of the base camp and venturing into hostile territory. The title is thematic for many characters in the book but also for Davie Richards. It was cathartic writing this novel. I hope readers feel the same way reading it.
So, why did the author of four novels in a humorous amateur sleuth series go to the dark side? My writing career began on a whim. While in graduate school working on my MBA degree and inspired by Susan Isaac’s book After All These Years, I decided it would be fun to write a humorous mystery novel about Tucker Sinclair, a business consultant who had an MBA and an uncanny ability to solve crimes. That inspiration became FALSE PROFITS.
Deep into that first book, I needed to write a scene in a police station, but I’d never been in a police station. That’s a good thing, right? Some research is difficult. It’s not likely that you could walk into a busy LAPD division and ask for a tour. But by a stroke of divine providence, my wishes were fulfilled. While attending a Neighborhood Watch meeting, the LAPD Senior Lead Officer suggested I apply for the volunteer program. I was accepted, and one of my first duties was to lead a tour through the station! That led to a 15-year stint as a volunteer and Specialist Reserve Officer for the Los Angeles Police Department.
Tucker Sinclair was smart and fun to be around. But after those early carefree days before publication when I could spend an entire afternoon reworking one paragraph, dreaded deadlines now plagued me. To complicate matters, my mother was in poor health and it fell to me to manage her care. Time allocation became a problem, so after the fourth Tucker book, my writing was put on hold.
That’s when I began a novel about a female homicide detective that would become PACIFIC HOMICIDE. By that time I had worked with the department for fifteen years, the last five of those years in the detective squad room. I knew a lot about police procedure. I took my time crafting those pages because I wasn’t a sworn police officer and I didn’t want to get it wrong. I had too much respect for the people I worked with to risk disappointing them.
PACIFIC HOMICIDE was a huge departure for me. First, it was written in third person, not first. There would be humor, of course. I couldn’t imagine a book without moments of levity, but the tone was hardboiled and darker than my previous books. People warned me it might be difficult for fans to accept this new character, but a writer has to write what a writer feels, and I felt darker. When the book was finished I sent it to a homicide detective friend to read. I held my breath until I heard him say, “You nailed it.”
Publishing is a fickle friend. In the last few days, two people have asked me if I would ever consider writing books that weren’t mysteries. I guess the answer is—it depends on how I feel.
About the author: Patricia Smiley is the author of four mystery novels about amateur-sleuth Tucker Sinclair. The first novel in her new police procedural series, PACIFIC HOMICIDE, debuted in November 2016, and features LAPD homicide detective Davie Richards. The second book, OUTSIDE THE WIRE, is set for release on November 8, 2017.
Patty’s short fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and the anthology Two of the Deadliest. She has been on the faculty of various writers’ conferences in the U.S. and Canada and has served as vice president of the Southern California chapter of Mystery Writers of America and as president of Sisters in Crime Los Angeles.